Daily News Miner Fairbanks, AK
September 16, 1996
Front page and page A-8
By KRISTAN KELLY ......... For the News-Miner
Deciding who most needs the message of HIV prevention was the task of the Alaska HIV Prevention Planning Group meeting at the Fairbanks Princess Hotel Sunday. The statewide group of 16 volunteers is charged with prioritizing the needs in Alaska to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The Alaska Division of Public Health uses the group's work in its application for federal funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This disease impacts certain groups much more than others. You want to spend your resources where it's going to have the most impact," said board member Victor Carlson, an assistant public defender in Kotzebue. "If African-Americans have a greater chance of becoming infected, for whatever reasons, you would want to emphasize prevention in that group. "
The group, which has been meeting since 1994 spent most of the day Sunday working on its 50-page draft proposal of the Alaska HIV Prevention Plan 1997-2000. It plans to release a proposal in about six weeks for public comment, said Wendy Craytor, the AIDS/STD coordinator for Alaska.
The Sunday morning discussion focused on the group's list of prioritized needs, divided into behavioral and systematic categories.
Under the heading of behavior needs, the task force identified nine priorities. The highest ranking need is to reduce unsafe sex among gay and bisexual minority men. Reducing sex among known HIV positive people ranked second. The list goes on to target other at-risk groups, such as young gay men and men who have sex with men but do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual. Unsafe injection practices among drug users is a target, as well as unsafe sex among prostitutes and youths.
The availability of HIV education and information for inmates in the state's jails and prisons ranked first under the system needs category. Partner notification assistance, and support with appropriate analysis of the state's Youth Risk Behavior Survey ranked second and third respectively.
The development of an HIV/AIDS unit to be included within a health education curriculum ranked fourth on the group's priority list. In order of priority the following rounded out the list of system needs: HIV educational training for Department of Corrections staff, preventative education in social service programs that deal with populations at greater risk of contracting HIV; continued support of a survey of childbearing women and the promotion of task force members in HIV prevention activities around the state.
Some group members debated whether unsafe sex among minorities or reducing sex among people with HIV should be ranked first. One man argued that it is more important to control the people with the virus because they are the people spreading it.
A problem with that argument, countered Carlson, is flawed testing procedures do not always identify those carrying the virus and thus not everyone knows when they are carrying the disease.
The priorities of the prevention group parallel statewide statistics on AIDS.
A total of 345 cases of AIDS has been confirmed among Alaska residents through June 30, according to the state Section of Epidemiology. The greatest number of AIDS cases in Alaska have been reported among people whose exposure to the disease was through male-male sex, with 59 percent of all cases.
Injection drug users comprise 11 percent of Alaska AIDS cases, lower than the national average of 25 percent. An additional 6 percent of Alaskans with AIDS are gay men who also inject drugs.
In Alaska, 12 percent of AIDS patients are female with 51 percent of them reporting contraction of the virus through heterosexual sex with high-risk partners. One percent of AIDS cases in Alaska are nmong children younger than 13 years, with the majority born to mothers with HIV or at high risk for infection.
In terms of race, AIDS strikes some minority groups harder than Alaska Natives or whites. While African Americans make up only 4 percent of the state's population, they comprise 9 percent of all AIDS cases in Alaska. Likewise, 3 percent of the state's population is Hispanic, but Hispanics account for 7 percent of AIDS cases statewide.
Whites make up 68 percent of Alaska's AIDS cases while comprising 76 percent of the overall population and, at 16 percent the population percentage of Alaska Natives matches the percentage of Native AIDS cases.
The vast majority of AIDS cases were in Alaska's urban area. Seventy-one percent of people with AIDS said they lived in Anchorage or the MatanuskaSusitna Valley; 9 percent in Fairbanks and 5 percent in Juneau.
The Alaska HIV prevention Planning Group is scheduled to finish its meeting today from 9:15 until 4:15 today at the Princess Hotel.